Existential doubt for Thane church after errors in Mumbai DP

  • Manoj Nair, Hindustan Times, Mumbai
  • Updated: Jul 24, 2016 23:35 IST
The Kapurbawdi flyover in Thane (Hindustan Times)

As citizen groups point out more errors and omissions in Mumbai’s revised Development Plan (DP) --- the city’s planning blueprint for 2014-34 --- residents of Thane are discovering mistakes in their city’s DP.

When they read about Mumbai’s error-ridden planning papers, residents of Pokhran in Thane, curious about the status of a ruined three-century old church in their locality, decided to look at their DP. They found that the nine-acre plot on which the building stands is marked as a playground with no mention of the church.

The DP was prepared in 1999 and Thane is expected to get a new blueprint after 2020. Members of the church are worried that it could be demolished as it is not marked in the DP.

Shailendra Bendale, an officer in Thane’s town planning department, said there are no plans to destroy the monument.

Thane’s DP does not have many errors, but Bendale admitted that the ruined church’s absence in the document was an error.

“We prepared a ‘land use plan’ in 1991 before the DP was made, but nobody pointed out that the church was not listed. Suddenly they are claiming that it is not marked,” said Bendale, adding that the building is a complete ruin.

“I saw the church 30 years ago and nobody has repaired it or used it. Till today, the TMC (Thane Municipal Corporation) has not decided to demolish it. We are not touching the church.”

The history of the church has been documented recently.

Mayur Thakare, an archaeologist with the Directorate of Archaeology and Museums, said he visited the ruins in 2010 when he was researching medieval archaeology in north Konkan of which Thane is a part.

According to Thakare, when Thane came under the Portuguese rule in the 16th century, Catholic orders such as the Franciscans, Jesuits, Augustinians and Dominicans arrived in the region, set up missions and churches and converted residents to Christianity.

Thakare said Thane’s association with Christianity could go back to at least the 14th century when there were Franciscans missionaries in the area.

The Pokhran church – called the Our Lady of Mercy Church --- was probably constructed in the early 17th century and was in regular use till 1737 AD when a war broke out between the Marathas and the Portuguese, said Thakare. When the war ended two years later, the Portuguese lost north Konkan to the Marathas.

Pokhran residents said though the church was not used regularly, there were occasional religious services there. “Workers from Raymond factory and the East Indian community would worship there,” said Ignatius Quadros, 81.

In 1977, a statue of a Hindu deity was found on the premises and when the dispute over which community should have the right to worship at the site was unresolved, members of the church moved the idol of Mother Mary to another building on the premises. Vandals are reported to have destroyed the doors and furniture, leaving the building to fall into ruins.

More recently, there has been a dispute over the ownership of the land around the building – the area is now filled with multi-storeyed housing --- with a construction company claiming that it has the development rights on the plot. The church members have challenged the plans and the matter is being heard by the courts.

The residents of Pokhran want the structure to be declared as a heritage structure.

“We are collecting signatures from our parishioner to petition the municipal corporation,” said Melwyn Fernandes, joint secretary of Our Lady of Mercy Welfare Association.

Thakare said the church needs to be protected.

“The Our Lady of Mercy Church is a beautiful specimen of Indo-Portuguese art and architecture. We should protect it, not just for the local resident but also for others.”

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